People who feed the hungry decry proposed $40 billion in cuts to programs

Christina Wong, public policy manager of Northwest Harvest and co-chair of the Anti-Hunger and Nutrition Coalition, speaks at a Wednesday news conference at the Auburn Food Bank.  - Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter
Christina Wong, public policy manager of Northwest Harvest and co-chair of the Anti-Hunger and Nutrition Coalition, speaks at a Wednesday news conference at the Auburn Food Bank.
— image credit: Robert Whale/Auburn Reporter

The Nutrition Reform and Work Opportunity Act Congress votes on this week would cut food aid by $40 billion over 10 years, affecting up to 6 million hungry families, say alarmed community advocates and people who depend on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

Wednesday morning, people with personal knowledge of what such a loss would mean to the people they serve, came together at the Auburn Food Bank to say no.

And to urge Congress, particularly U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, R-Auburn, to say no.

Among those speaking out were Auburn Food Bank Director Debbie Christian, Kent City Councilwoman Elizabeth Albertson, members of the Washington Community Action Network, members of SNAP, and the Rev. Jimmie James, director of Holistic Opportunities for Personal Empowerment and a member of the Kent Black Action Commission.

SNAP – also known as Food Stamps – is an anti-poverty program that provides nutrition support to low-income people struggling to put food on the table and to middle-class families who are struggling economically because of the Great Recession.

In these tough times, advocates agreed, when one in six people in the state alone rely on SNAP, and more than two-fifths of those who receive benefits are children, it would be one cut way too many. Instead, advocates urged Congress to close corporate tax loopholes and make large companies such as Apple, General Electric and Verizon pay "their fair share" of federal taxes.

Numbers at the Auburn Food Bank, according to Christian, have more than doubled in the last five years. Today, more than 170 families come through the food bank's doors every day. Today, the food bank serves some 650 individuals, and that number could double again.

Additional cuts, Christian, would be wrong.

"I think what I really need you to hear is that our families can't suffer any more," Christian said. "They're already at a minimum in their income, they're already at a minimum in their resources. The stamina that it takes to stay on programs is just really tough for them. They cannot take another cut. I'm already running out of money. Our grants have been cut. Our food supply has coming in OK from some new and bigger business. But this is also summer. When it comes down to further cuts, this will decrease my purchasing power and increase the client need. If you double the numbers again, how in the world am I going to stretch that?"

Food out of mouths

James said he was appalled at the decisions "of our so-called leaders and politicians, who decide they want to take food out of the mouths of poor children in our communities.

"Your indifference is dangerous to our young people. Your friendship with the rich is an enemy to righteousness," James said. "Don't you know that the Brookings Institution has already defined South King County as a model for growing trends of poverty and hunger? Don't you know that the least, the last, and the less live right here in this community? And you want to take SNAP and shut the door on hungry families and youth and children. Not on our watch," James said.

Albertson, serving her third term on the City of Kent's Human Services Commission, noted that 52 percent of the students in the Kent School District are already on free and reduced lunch, and 14,000 people visit the Kent Food Bank every year.

"Poverty has grown by more than 80 percent in South King County in the last 10 years. South King County in particular ... is one of the worst poverty centers in the country," Albertson said. "And yet we have this disconnect. We have the wealthy east side, we've got a lot of money in Seattle. The Pacific Northwest is seen as this beautiful, wonderful place to live. And it is. But we have people here that are hungry and homeless. Someone asked me a question about the working poor. Well, we have working poor here that are also homeless."

Christina Wong, public policy manager of Northwest Harvest and co-chair of the Anti-Hunger and Nutrition Coalition, called the proposed legislation mean.

"When I first heard about this proposal to cut SNAP by $40 billion, I was shocked and saddened," Wong said. "I can really think of no reason, other than mean spiritedness, that would result in any member of Congress voting yes on this bill. A yes vote means a deliberate decision to make people hungry. So, as I have continued to advocate against this bill, I have gone from being heartbroken to being outraged. This bill claims to fight fraud and abuse and waste in the system. But here's what it actually is: it's a slap in the face to charitable, hunger relief organizations that have struggled to meet the record, rising need for emergency food services since the start of the recession. Especially when we have been experiencing dwindling contributions from the private sector."

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